Do sulfites in wine give me a headache?
by Len Napolitano
If the sulfite level in wine – and some foods – is high, it may be enough to trigger a reaction in people with an allergy to sulfites. Although individual thresholds for a reaction vary, in 1988 the U.S. government established a limit and required a label stating “Contains Sulfites” to appear on every bottle of wine made with more than the maximum allowed amount of 10 milligrams per liter.
Even though a small percentage of the U.S. population, estimated to be around one percent, might sneeze or cough from drinking wine containing sulfites exceeding the limit, about ten percent of the one percent will suffer a more serious reaction, such as shortness of breath. Headaches are not a typical reaction, even though people who get them from wine usually blame the sulfites.
In the majority of cases, the cause is something else: dehydration from not drinking enough water while consuming wine; consuming wine on an empty stomach; a wine’s high alcohol content; or from histamines, another natural byproduct of winemaking, present more in red wine than white. Some people take an antihistamine in advance of drinking red wine in order to prevent or mitigate a headache, or they avoid red wine altogether by choosing only white wine.
Experimenting with different producers might uncover one that makes your favorite varietal wine with the right amount of sulfites for your system. Needless to say, the cause of any physical reaction from wine is difficult to pin down without a doctor’s assistance. There are dozens of compounds in wine, any one of which could cause a sensitive person to have an allergic reaction. If you suffer any reaction as a result of drinking wine, you should consult a doctor.
And, ask your doctor about trying wines with low sulfite content, i.e., organic wines.
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